During the Mid Term Review on Friday, the Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests made a presentation where he highlighted that MoAF achieved 33.67 percent self sufficiency in 2019 in terms of rice production.
According to the Ministry, the area under paddy cultivation has decreased by 20,935 acres from 51,249 acres in 2017 to 30,314 acres in 2019. Punakha had the largest wetland land loss of 3,628 acres, followed by Wangdue with 2,164 acres. Fallow-land is mostly responsible for the decrease in land under paddy. In Wangdue, there are 888.57 acres of fallow land; in Punakha, there are 597.44 acres of fallow land. In three years, 165 acres of wetland is converted to dry land with the highest being 49 acres in Punakha.
In 2019, 2,968 MT of paddy was lost to wild animals. As a result, the MoAF proposed lowering the rice Self Sufficiency Rate target to 43%.
As per Kinlay Tshering, Director of Department of Agriculture, the previous government directed the department to achieve 75 percent rice self-sufficiency by the end of the 11th five-year plan, and was instructed to invest accordingly.
“We submitted a detailed rice enhancement plan, which included 108 irrigation schemes as one of the largest investments. There were hundreds of fallow lands in various parts of the country, and based on previous experience, this was one of the largest investments. We were able to mobilize funding from donor programs, but not even half of what was planned for irrigation schemes could be achieved,” she said, adding that the Ministry added the condition that if the sufficient resources proposed could not be provided to them, they would not be able to meet the 75 percent goal.
She added, “We assumed 50 percent, and then we increased to 60 percent target, but hundreds of acres were left idle in Samtse due to water scarcity. Secondly, there is rivalry between humans and wild animals, and third, there is competition from other cash crops such as cardamom. At that point, with investment and the assumption of 108 irrigation schemes, we thought we could achieved the goal, however we could not achieved the target, so with a thorough review and current budget allocation, we proposed 43 percent.”
Thinley Namgyel, the Secretary for the Gross National Happiness Commission said, “One problem is statistical itself. We have a variety of data from the dzongkhag and the Ministry. Second, the 2017 base line was slightly off, and the goal for the 12th plan was set based on that year. It’s difficult for GNHC to conclude that 43 percent is a fair target.”
The Cabinet Secretary Sangay Duba also said that apart from statistics and irrigation, there are a slew of other variables that can stymie progress, such as rural-urban migration and manual changes.
“Rice production, in my opinion, is on the verge of extinction. Even if the target is not lowered, the ministry can focus on the strategies; if this is not achieved, we will gradually fail and reset the target until we reach a point that we can no longer lose,” he said.
The Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the rice output has always gone up until 2018, but there has been a drastic drop in the last two and a half years.
“I feel that the performance has not decreased, but our calculations were incorrect,” the Prime Minister said.
Lyonchhen asked the ministry, asking if they wanted to claim that production was declining or that the way they measured was incorrect, and that what they were doing now was right.
Lyonchhen also said that the aim of the mid-term review is to determine why the goal was not met and what factors are causing the failure so that they can address the issues.
“If there is no budget, we can reallocate, and if there is a manpower shortage, we can reallocate human resources and focus on policies or norms if they aren’t effective,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen added, “We’re not suggesting we won’t consider it, we will not make any decisions about resetting the rice target at this time; I want the ministry to conduct a thorough study.”
Meanwhile, 40,708 acres were brought under assured irrigation, 12 major irrigations channels constructed/ renovated centrally, benefitting 1,755 House Holds, covering 3,657 acres in 7 dzongkhags.
Major Irrigation schemes completed were 7.2 km Jhatey,Tsirang, 2.3 km Lingbay, Trongsa, 25 km Phendey, Punkaha, 10 km Langpa-Nobgang, Haa, 8-Beru-Sipsoo, Samtse, 7.8 km Yabrang-saling, Trashigang, 3 Km Zhungkhar in Lhuntse.